A Red Woman Was Crying:

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  Dangerous Words

Told by Lalaga, 1972

 

     A certain bush demon — a kapika — lived in the forest where there was a lot of bamboo. Her name was Latamui.

     Everybody knows that if you’re cut by bamboo in Latamui’s territory, you must not cry out Ui! Latamui! (“Ow! I’m cut!”) because Latamui will hear you calling her name, and she’ll chase you and catch you and eat you.

     Two young brothers went into that forest to hunt possums. They knew about Latamui, but they went anyway. They hunted and when they were done, they made a shelter to sleep in. They slept.   In the morning they hunted again and caught many possums.

     The next day, the younger brother started breaking up bamboo in order to make a bamboo knife and butcher the possums. He cut himself and, forgetting, said the dangerous words.

     Immediately they saw Latamui running towards them, saying “I’m your grandmother, please wait.”

     The brothers knew she meant to eat them, so they grabbed their possums and started running away.

     Latamui chased them.

    They threw a possum behind them, and Latamui sat down to eat it. They kept running, but she caught up to them. They threw her another, and another, and another.

     Finally there were no more possums. The brothers were scrambling over a big fallen tree, when Latamui caught the younger brother and killed him.

     The elder brother hid.

     Latamui ate every part of the younger brother except his heart.

     The elder brother went back and saw the bloody heart lying on the ground. He put it in the crotch of a tree, and went back to the village and told everyone that Latamui had eaten his younger brother.

     The sorrowful parents cut down their coconut palms, damaged their food gardens, and slept in ashes.

     After two nights, the elder brother went to see the heart. It was growing a head, legs, and arms.

     He went back each day and each day, the heart was more like a person.

     He kept all this a secret.

     After more days the heart turned into a human infant. After more days it was standing up and falling down, like a child learning to walk. After more days it was not only a human being, it was his brother.

     The elder brother laughed and was happy but he still told no one about it.

     Next, the elder brother brought some bananas. By then the child could talk, and he said “My older brother!” and ate the bananas. The elder brother brought many bananas. Some were ripe and some were not ripe.

     The younger brother began walking.

     He asked his brother to bring a bow and arrows so he could shoot the birds who were shitting on him when he slept in the crotch of the tree.

     The next day, the elder brother brought the bow and arrows to the younger brother. He also brought him fire.

     The younger brother stayed in the forest, shooting birds and cooking them in the fire, and eating bananas.

     One day, the elder brother asked the younger brother if they should go back, and younger brother said yes.

     They walked to the village, carrying their bows.

     They came to their parents’ house, and the elder brother said, “Mother!”

     She said, “Who’s there?”

     He said, “It’s me and my younger brother, the one Latamui ate.”

     The mother and father were very happy. They hugged him, they touched him all over. The elder brother told the whole story, starting with the heart.

     They had already decided to have the feast for a dead person, the latakari, before they knew the younger brother was not dead. They decided to have it anyway.

     The father made a pig-corral, and they bargained for pigs and put them in it, so they could be given away at the feast.

     The men went to get food from the garden. They went to get firewood to cook the taro, and they went for coconuts. The pigs were all ready.

     In the old days, pigs were sent to other clans as invitations to the feast. These were known as “spirit pigs,” even though they were real pigs.

     One pig came to Latamui, so she knew she was invited to the latakari for the boy she had eaten.

     After the work of preparing things, the brothers went into a cookhouse and made a big hole. They heaped it with firewood and stones, as people do with an earth oven before it is closed up.

     They made a wooden bed over the hole, and they cut through the black-palm planks, so there was only a little wood holding them together.

     They started the fire.

Now it was night. Everything was ready.

     The first group of feasters arrived, singing. Then a second, a third. Latamui didn’t come into the village, but she was nearby in the bush, singing and leaping around with her group, which was made up of other bush demons, all very frightening and dangerous spirit creatures.

     All the other guests were human beings.

     Latamui’s song went like this: “With these teeth I’ll chew you up, look out! I killed your younger brother with my teeth, be careful I don’t chew you too.”

     Then she and her demons entered the village and danced.

     The brothers were watching.

     In the morning, the humans took their pigs and left. The demons gathered up their pigs, too, and made ready to leave.

     So the brothers went to Latamui and said, “Grandmother, why not wait while we butcher your pig for you?”

     The brothers said, “Sit down here and warm yourself.”

     She sat down. The bench broke, and she fell into the fire. Before she could climb out, the brothers threw in more stones, and threw water on them to make steam. Latamui burned and choked and died.

     That was the end of the kapika Latamui.